While I’m pondering which game to focus on next, and playing a couple of new things that I’m not ready to talk about yet, I figured it would be a good time to stop by one of my old favourites. Soul Reaver 2 is a strange game but it’s somehow managed to end up in my top list of games. Also, spoiler warning – I’ll be talking about any old part of the game, so avoid this if you’re planning to give it a fresh try.
I was a big fan of the first game. I’d played the demo many times, on the same disc as the Dino Crisis one, for those who’ve read that article. When I finally got my hands on the game, I was kept away from it by school, and a holiday that landed on that same week (first world problems, I know).
When I did get to properly sit down with Soul Reaver, though, I burst through it in a handful of days and was left disappointed by the sudden, cut-off ending. I was drawn into its dismal, decaying world of a ruined empire and the monsters that now inhabited it, and eager to see what happened next.
For someone who had repeatedly played the final encounter in Soul Reaver, Soul Reaver 2 opened in a somewhat amusing way, as it has the same conversation with Kain which I’d seen about a million times already. It then introduces you to the not-at-all-suspicious Moebius, the Time Streamer who was a pain in the neck in the original Blood Omen. He sets you back on your quest from the first game – go find Kain and kill him.
From here, you’re released into the Sarafan Stronghold, and can make your way out into Nosgoth of the past and pursue your old enemy. So how, exactly, does it play out?
Well, as I mentioned, I find Soul Reaver 2 to be a rather odd game. Blood Omen and Soul Reaver are both linear games, but they have open worlds that you are largely free to explore. I got definite Legend of Zelda vibes when I played Soul Reaver in particular, as you’d encounter dead ends earlier on that could then be overcome with special abilities received from dungeons or bosses later on.
Both games had teleporting systems and encouraged you to look around for hidden areas and secret powers (though I was lazy and basically never used any glyphs in Soul Reaver). There was an entire human city that could be missed in Soul Reaver, though as I understand it, that had originally been planned as part of the full journey that was cruelly cut short by time constraints.
I was slow to pick up on it, but Soul Reaver 2 had no such freedoms. You’re basically restricted to a fairly direct route, from the Sarafan Stronghold in the south all the way up to Janos’s Retreat in the north. There are a couple of slight detours you can take for Reaver Forges, but generally speaking those are all on the pre-planned route and the story will push you to each without much chance of getting lost.
Gone, too, are any real secrets. The Reaver powers are all obtained from story locations, and there aren’t any hidden health boosts either. In addition, traversing the world is done entirely on foot. You can’t teleport anywhere, or fly between locations as a bat.
This results in a fair amount of area reuse. Over the course of the game, you’ll go through the following areas (along with a few forges here and there):
Act One: Stronghold -> Pillars -> Swamp -> Pillars -> Stronghold
Act Two: Stronghold -> Pillars -> Swamp -> Uschtenheim -> Janos’s Retreat -> Uschtenheim -> Swamp
Act Three: Swamp -> Uschtenheim -> Janos’s Retreat -> Uschtenheim -> Swamp -> Pillars -> Stronghold
I’ve divided it into acts because the game has you travel to three different time eras. Each one has its own distinct vibe, and changes a couple of available features, along with swapping out the enemies you’ll face, but they’re still essentially the same locations.
The first act is basically a nice summery stroll around the world, with a mercenary army blocking the main route north and south. The second act sends you to a nightmarish time period where everything is swallowed in darkness and demons are wreaking havoc (naturally, this was my favourite part of the game).
Finally, the third act takes you to a cold winter world where the elite knights, the Sarafan Order, are basically doing the same job that the mercenary army did in Act One, but a bit more efficiently.
Now, I said I liked the game, but it’s obviously stripped down a fair bit from the previous ones. The reason for my adoration is almost entirely the story and worldbuilding. Soul Reaver 2 really grabbed me in a way that Soul Reaver did not.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Soul Reaver and I’ve played it through far too many times, but the storyline is fairly basic. The setup is great, and I like what is done, but for the main part of the game, the story is basically Raziel popping into a new domain, having a brief argument with one of his former vampire “brothers”, and then killing them.
The only real variation is when he meets up with Ariel or the Elder God, who both basically ask him to kill Kain, or when he discovers that he used to be a Sarafan before Kain turned him into a vampire.
Soul Reaver 2 was a bit less predictable for me. While it starts out with Raziel’s old goal of killing Kain, it swiftly raises questions about whether that’s really the true fix to all the series’ problems. Steadily, as the game moves on, questions about morality and meaning come up, and Raziel struggles to work out what his true goal is, whether as avenging killer or possible hero.
I was really into it. Even though the game suffers a bit from having the player repeatedly walk up and down the same route, it got me to care a little more for the world as I built up familiarity with each area, and got to see the changes wrought over time (admittedly, not huge changes, in most cases).
As for the story, I didn’t know quite where it was going to end up. I’m not usually one for time travel stories, but I enjoyed some of the ways they played with it here. As Moebius continued to switch between playing the fool and manipulator, I wasn’t certain whose side he was on (if anyone’s), and Raziel’s increasingly antagonistic relationship with his former mentor, the Elder God, promised a possible titanic showdown with the eldritch deity, maybe even at Kain’s side.
Only, er, the game ends. And it ends very suddenly, if you ask me, in a way very reminiscent of the original Soul Reaver. You confirm that Moebius has been messing you about (what a surprise!), but rather than dealing with any of your major enemies, Raziel gets distracted by facing off against his past self as a Sarafan. After winning the fight, there’s a great cutscene where Kain intervenes and changes history, only to realise that he’s probably made a real mess of things, but then the credits hit.
To say I was surprised and disappointed was an understatement. All these new possibilities and plot points were whirling around in my head, but now who knew when they’d be resolved? Blood Omen 2 helped to fill in some of this information (like Kain name-dropping the Hylden right at the end of SR2), but it was a very different game to Soul Reaver 2 and didn’t really scratch the same itch.
Defiance would tackle many of these plot lines a few years later, but while I was really into it, there was something missing in that game. It’s hard to quite put my finger on it, but I didn’t find the puzzles or combat to be quite as sharp as in the earlier Soul Reavers.
And, in the biggest plot twist of all, the game didn’t quite wrap up all the plot points again, and this time there would be no sequel.
Soul Reaver 2 is a short game. I think it’s around seven to ten hours or so in all, so it’s one of those games that I’ve played through multiple times. In many ways I wish that it had come to a more satisfying conclusion, but at the same time I suspect that’s part of why the game stuck with me. It raised a lot of interesting questions and possibilities, and since there was no resolution, I had time to think things over and try to puzzle out how it would end, which kept the game alive longer than its duration.
That’s, er, not permission for everyone to release unfinished games, by the way.
In terms of aging, the game obviously has. It was already a bit old-fashioned when it came out, with its more linear format, and limited options in combat. You’re basically just swinging weapons, blocking, or dodging. Some of the puzzles are smart, but I don’t think the forges quite reach the levels of Zelda’s dungeons, and Raziel’s ability to shift to the Spectral Realm often feels more like a hindrance than a cool way to explore.
It’s up on Steam, which is where I last played it, but it has a few resolution and control quirks on Windows 10, or at least it did when I booted it up recently. These screenshots are all from 2015, when it behaved a little better, but I’m sure there are workarounds, or maybe it’s just my PC.
Still, Soul Reaver 2 inspired me, and I do recommend picking it up and giving it a try. I’d love for there to be another Legacy of Kain game to wrap up the story, but given that it’s been fifteen years since Defiance, I’m not sure there’s much incentive.
Dare I ask for a series reboot instead?